03 August 2011

Counting the cost of bad politics

The Netherlands have been a byword for tolerant and realistic drug policies for years. It took some courage to do that because it provokes some pretty rough criticism from its partners in Europe and around the world.

The Dutch system effectively suspends its own drug law (drugs remain technically illiegal) and tolerates both drug use and the sale of cannabis in a regulated way through the "coffeeshops". These are regulated, legal (and taxed). Their supply is not. When the system started decades ago the "back door" was supplied by green-fingered "hippy" types and other amateurs. Now that cannabis has become a mainstream consumer product in much of the world - although production remains illegale - organised crime has stepped in.

It is a good illustration of the point I made in my post of 4 April (Power sharing with the Mafia). There is no easy option for weak politicians: all-out prohibition doesn't work (anywhere in the world) nor does the half-hearted tolerance policy of the Dutch (and, incidentally, quite a few other European countries).

As demand for cannabis grew in Holland - boosted by drugs tourism from neighboring countries - the volume of the  cannabis trade overtook heroin and cocaine somewhere around 1995 and is still expanding. The police has responded by creating special teams, sentencing is now tougher, but the profits to be made are totally irrisistable and the business plan of a serious canabis producer includes prison as a calculated risk and lethal violence as an essential management technique. Take a look at the fundamentals: a 1000-plant cannabis plantation with grow lights and automatic irrigation yields up to five harvests a year worth 700.000 EURO. The electricity and water are free because they are illegally tapped from the public networks.

What does this lead to? An unprecedented growth in organised violent crime in a country that has a firmly non-violent tradition. Drive-by shootings, public assassinations in bars and people's homes. Although much of this is gang warfare, the degree of intimidation of private citizens who are "pursuaded" to make a room, garage or cellar available to the growers is such that they rarely go to the police to complain. One mayor of a Dutch town is in hiding under police protection. Dutch police claim they destroy 6000 plantations a year or 2,5 million plants (one plant produces app. 40 grams). And yet, cannabis production is not thought to have decreased significantly.The market however is becoming more violent every year.

The problem has now spread over the border into Belgium, which has a weaker police system than Holland and less experience with the drugs trade. Belgian police recently claimed that more tha, 90% of plantations discovered were linked to Dutch organised crime. A Belgian criminologist, Prof. Decorte, describes the (Dutch) police tactics as "hit and run" raids on plantations, but which do no significant harm to the organisations behind the trade itself. Going for the top criminals would take resources that are simply not available and are likely to remain so for years to come. Meanwhile, others are moving into the business. Turkish, Bulgarian and Moroccan networks are increasingly active, to say nothing of the Vietnamese, already dominating the Canadian market and expanding rapidly in the UK.

How long will it take for our feeble and election-hungry politicians to take their eyes off the economy and to recognise that the bells are tolling for traditional prohibition of drugs and for the UN Conventions on drugs, at least in their present form. If they persist in "fighting" rather than regulating and reducing the side effects, we should expect a gradual slide into a form of society in which organised crime plays a major part in mainstream politics and in ordinary people's lives. Try to explain that to your children.


13:00 Posted by Carel Edwards in Blog, Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: cannabis |  Facebook

19 June 2011

More on Nixon's legacy

This week my post is a link to a tv interview with Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (US). He says it all and better than I can. What we need is more of this kind of interview on European media. Greece, the Euro, and the Arab Spring are important issues, but other issues remain. Deaths and crime induced by drug policies are amongst them. Go to http://youtu.be/oq8kBaFtY-g  If the link doesn’t work, Google Ethan Nadelmann. You’ll find it.

16:28 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook

07 June 2011

Global Commission on Drugs, don't let this fade away.

As the dust settles on the "coming out" of the former world leaders who make up the Commission (www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Commission) it is interesting to feel the pulse of some of the world's media in relation to the idea that the drugs war has not just been lost but has made things worse, as well as the proposal that a sensible debate on regulation of drugs like cannabis is the best way forward.

If the idea has been overwhelmingly welcomed by civil society and professionals in the drugs and drug policy field, it has predictably been rejected by most governments, like the US, Russia, and other nations that have essentialy military/ideological approaches to mass sociological problems like drugs.The UK and other governments had their rejection ready but there was good coverage in most of the media in Europe.
Some of the official reactions are almost comical. Apart from the old favourite about "sending the wrong message" there ist the World Federation against Drugs. Have a look at their website. Its headlines are an emotional rant aimed at discrediting individuals ("Russian Drugs Tsar Viktor Ivanov accused Koffi Annan of lobbying on behalf of drug traffickers"). The Russian Federal anti drugs service is a notoriously corrupt and ineffectual body, while Russia itself has a huge drugs problem that it is failing to deal with. The site goes on to name the "legalisers" and "harm producers" behind the report, which looks like a Who'sWho for evidence-based policies; surely an unintended consequence.

Mr Ivanov was also active at Deauville, where the G8 recently looked at this (Why the G8?). He stated that we should be aware that this is "a public relations campaign in favour of drugs linked to the huge revenues they generate". He also called for a Russo-European agency to eliminate drugs in ..... Afghanistan. The French government has a way of pretending to go along with this type of initiative because it gives them international visibility but it rarely leads to much (who knows what results the 2010 Hortefeux Pact against Drugs in West Africa produced?). François Hollande on the other hand, potential socialist candidate for the presidential elections, calls for a commission at European level to look at treatment and decriminalisation of cannabis. Let's see if he remembers if he wins. And let's hope that the European Commission is listening and will anticipate the need to support such an initiative and channel it away from ideologically induced platitudes in order to obtain EU consensus. 

Freek Polak of ENCOD gave a particularly clear and helpful interview on Dutch radio. That is now more important than it used to be as the Dutch are becoming wobbly on drug policy and are in denial about the reasons why home-grown organised crime has got into the home-grown cannabis trade, but that is another subject..

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland - and member of the Global Commission - is on record as saying "I have high expectation of European action on this. Europe must put public health at the centre of the drugs problem."

As the old joke goes in Brussels: maybe the EU should apply for membership of the Swiss Confederation. 

11:23 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook